Euro Football

Fear of relegation and harmed Euro 2020 chances will drive Northern Ireland on: Norwood


Midfielder Ollie Norwood says the fear of relegation in the Nations League will drive Northern Ireland on against Austria tomorrow night in Vienna as the repercussions of finishing bottom in Group B3 could be damaging for the men in green.

Having lost their opening Nations League match to Bosnia last month at Windsor Park and with Robert Prosinecki’s side defeating Austria in their second game to go six points clear at the top, Northern Ireland are aware that victory at the Ernst Happel Stadium is imperative if they are to stand a chance of toppling the Bosnians.

Defeat or even a draw would put Northern Ireland into a relegation battle as the side that finishes bottom will automatically drop down into the third tier of the Nations League and it would affect their 2020 Euro qualifying draw prospects as they would have two supposed stronger teams in their group, rather than just the one, as they are currently in the second pot.

Northern Ireland earned praise for their high energy attacking style of play against the Bosnians, but Norwood knows those plaudits will count for little if they finish bottom of the group.

“The team’s very relaxed, we know we played well (against Bosnia),” said Norwood from Northern Ireland’s team base in Austria.

“Obviously we didn’t get the result we wanted but there were real positives to take. To do what we did in the first game, the level of performance against Bosnia, if you can’t take courage from that you won’t get courage from any game we play in at this level.

“There are fresh faces in the squad again, fresh input, and as a group of players we see it as another good opportunity to move it forward. We don’t want to be relegated into the pot below because that can then affect the Euro draw, we can end up as a pot three team and that will hinder us for the draw.

“We want to stay in the second pot and to do that we’ve got to win one of the next two games.”

Norwood, playing in midfield alongside skipper Steven Davis and George Saville, enjoyed Northern Ireland’s new free-flowing, expansive football style, playing with a high line, but the 27-year-old concedes the men in green must be wary of the opposition being able to come off the ropes and land a knockout blow as they are playing against top quality nations.

The Sheffield United ace, capped 55 times by Northern Ireland, admitted: “Michael spoke about how before we sat back in games and hoped we would nick something. So he said let’s try and take the initiative and drive it forward.

“We’ve got a good group of players playing at a good level, we’ve got good legs in the team, good physicality about us, players who can run and that’s a big thing in the way he wants to play and we’ve seen in the last two games it’s something we can do.

“But the one thing we did learn from the game against Bosnia, although we were quite dominant, they don’t need many chances to score.

“You look at the quality they possessed – okay, forget the second goal – but the one moment of quality they had in the first half they scored. Looking back it was a performance that put a marker down and we’re going to have to reach that level again against Austria on Friday night.”

Belfast Telegraph

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